Ok. Romania. Does anyone else know shamefully very little about this country? My hand goes up. Things I knew about Romania included: it was in Eastern Europe and had been part of the Communist bloc (Soviet bloc? I’m not 100% sure of the difference), there is the Transylvania/ Dracula history side and that it is often glossed over in favour of more popular, developed eastern countries. Well, let me tell you, tag Bucharest, Romania on to your list and give it a chance. You will be pleasantly surprised. I know I was!
I was delighted to be invited as a guest of the Experience Bucharest team, along with up to 100 other bloggers, photographers, Instagramers and vloggers, to visit the city and see what there is to offer visitors. Romania and Bucharest is an up and coming tourist destination with so much to offer from beaches, mountains and citybreaks as well as culture, food tours and history. The massive plus is that since it has such a diverse landscape and costs aren’t as crazy expensive as in other European countries you can have a memorable trip for a fraction of the cost. WIN! Flights with Ryanair via Dublin cost me €130 return. The Romanian currency is lei and at the time of my visit it was about 4lei to €1.
I love city breaks and the chance to explore Bucharest with @Experience_Bucharest meant that I was going to be shown around a new city by locals who knew exactly where to go, so no time wasting.
Our group were given a variety of tours and experiences to sign up for so let me share my trip with you so you can pick and choose how you want to enjoy your next Bucharest city break.
1: Go on one of the many free walking tours of Bucharest
I love guided tours of cities so I chose to go with Bucharest Walkabout Free Tours for a ‘Little Paris and New Berlin’ walking tour. This approximately 2-hour FREE tour takes in the eclectic mix of styles that is Bucharest, from classical French architecture to fun, street art and vibrant hipsters spots in a post-Communist city that, to me, was very reminiscent of East Berlin. Our knowledgeable guide, Carmen, had some really interesting facts about the city and it was curious to hear how a former, bustling newspaper printing office now lies abandoned and dilapidated or that a former old National Library now houses an antique market.
This tour is a great introduction to the city because it shows you a little bit of history and context mixed in with the new, creative attempts to rejuvenate the urban spaces and establish Bucharest as a viable option for visitors. Learn about life under Nicolae Ceaușescu’s communist regime and the ensuing bloody revolution, the birth of a new generation eager to carve out an existence for themselves to rival their Western counterparts.
2: Hit up a food tour and sample local treats
All that walking around will no doubt make you peckish. I signed up for two food tours during my visit (because, greedy!) and both were scrumptious. Delish Experiences run food tours from €65-85 and showcase the city’s culinary offerings from traditional peasant dishes to twists on old favourites as well as Romanian wines and cheeses. I am telling you, this is money well spent! Georgiana, our guide, knows her stuff and can answer all your questions and is fab at helping to pronounce the quasi-impossible dishes!
This tour took about 3 hours and started off at Origo for coffees. Not being a coffee fan my info here is limited, however, the barista assured me this place served the best tasting Nicaraguan coffee in the city and the cool, contemporary vibe of the café didn’t hurt either. I stuck to my surprise tea, although I still have no idea what kind of tea he brought me! #trust
After the pick me up coffee it was on to Vatra restaurant to sample a selection of traditional, Romanian dishes. I had been told Romanian cuisine relies heavily on pork and polenta and both were evident in the tasting plates we were served (jumari/ dried pork, I’m looking at you) but if you are a veggie they serve zacusca, the most delicious red pepper and aubergine dip and feta-style cheeses and salads. I tried sarmale/ cabbage rolls for the first time in my life – and they were…. tasty. I’d recommend you try them.
Next stop was La Mama restaurant for more cheese and wine, all local and yum and the piece de resistance was the papanasi dessert. A large ricotta doughnut with fresh, sour cream and soured cherries. Roll me home. This is where the Delish Adventures tour ended but not where my foodie info for you ends! Ha, keep reading.
3: Book in some chill out time
You have eaten your body weight in food and walked your little legs off so now you need some chill time. Trust me, I have you covered. Did you know Bucharest has a HUGE thermal spa located just past the airport? A short Uber taxi ride away and you are at the biggest thermal wellness and relaxation centre in Romania, wait, EUROPE! The Therme Bucharest blew me away and had I known how fab it was before hand I would not have allotted only 3 hours to it!
This place is heaven, if you like thermal pools, jacuzzi, water slides, saunas with different themes and decors, a tropical feel chill out area with beds and a rainforest steam room then this place is right up your alley. It is AMAZING! It is not just a thermal spa centre but it is also a botanical garden.
NOTE: You are given a wristband upon entry and can charge massages drinks and snacks to the band and pay upon exit. Bring your swimsuit, towel and flip flops and enjoy a few hours of pampering. Towels and flip flops are available to purchase at the Therme reception desk and opening hours are 8:00am – 1:00 am on weekends and 9:30-11:30 on weekdays and an Elysium ticket which grants access to all areas costs about €16 for 3 hours and this is during the day. Rates differ for evening visits and separate areas and you are charged per ½ hour over your allotted time. Children under 16 are only allowed in the Galaxy pool area.
4: So you fancy a bit of nature on this trip?
Check out this incredible example of nature taking over at the Vacaresti urban delta. Wildlife reclaimed this abandoned lake area in the city and it is now the largest urban, nature park in Europe. Look what happens when humans just leave things alone and don’t interfere! The edge of the park is a meadow but as you walk deeper the vegetation becomes denser and muddier and more wetland like. Bring your sturdy walking shoes unless you fancy getting a little muddy.
5: Get involved in the darker vibe.
Bucharest is in Romania and Romania has the market cornered with its grim history. From Vlad the Impaler, Dracula, and vampires to communist dictators. Why not prep for your visit to Transylvania by taking a Darkside walking tour with Bucharest urban adventures?
The Darkside Tour offers information about the 1989 revolution and the execution of the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu as well as tours of the Bellu Cemetery and tales from its more interesting inhabitants. A more beautiful graveyard I have not seen and some morbidly curious facts and tales from beyond the grave will surely capture your imagination. If that’s your bag!
I never knew Bucharest had its own Jack the Ripper and that an alleyway leading from Calea Victoriei down Pasajul Englez was a popular brothel until 1947 when it was turned into communist apartments. The things you learn on tour, eh! Check out the website for contact information and bear in mind this tour takes approximately 3 hours.
After all that darkness might I suggest you round off your day with a well-deserved drink at the Nomad Skybar in old town Bucharest. You will need something light after a day of darkness. This fun, modern bar is accessed via a lift to the top of the building and opens into a covered hopping bar scene and terrace with stairs leading to an outdoor upper deck bar. Perfect for whiling away your evening with views over the city’s rooftops.
Bucharest is well worth adding to your list and I would urge you to visit sooner rather than later before it becomes overrun and prices begin to soar. There is good value to be found in great hotels and this guide will cover you for activities for your weekend. Check out my other post on where else to eat and drink in the city.
**I was a guest of Experience Bucharest and was not paid for this trip however as a guest these tours and experiences were complimentary to me. As always opinions are my own.**